Jaime Chavez Jr. claimed injury to his left leg, right shoulder, bilateral knees, cervical spine, psyche, vision and internal system on October I 3, 2017 while employed as a tree trimmer by Cut It Right Tree Service.
He was assigned to cut multiple mulberry trees and a camphor tree. He was given a harness that was missing the right thigh strap. His task was to strip the three mulberry trees, to clear and shape them, and to clear and shape the camphor tree.
He became concerned, however, with how the ground crew was handling the debris. The brush was being moved in a manner that tangled his rope. He spoke with both the members of the ground crew to “stop playing with his life.” It appeared that they improved in their work.
But after lunch, approximately 3:00 p.m, he heard “an explosion.” He thought that the chainsaw had blown or the wood chipper. But his harness had cinched up and he saw that his leg had been ripped off and was hanging. As he came to realize later, the rope had wrapped around his leg, pulled tight, and then noticed that the left pant leg was now hanging flat. He knew that his leg had been popped out of the socket. As he understood later, the rope auto-amputated his leg from the knee down.
Mr. Chavez stated he had 15 years working in the tree trimming business. Prior to what happened to him, he has not heard of anyone suffering a leg amputation.
The matter proceeded to trial on February 3, 2020. The parties stipulated to injury AOE/COE to the following parts: left leg (amputation), right shoulder, bilateral knees and cervical spine. One of the issues was “sudden and extraordinary event.”
The WCJ commented in the Opinion on Decision “The defense contends that Applicant’s injuries are, first, barred by the six month rule. However, from a plain reading of the facts of this case, it is clear that this was both a “violent act” (as defined under Labor Code § 4660.1) and a “sudden and extraordinary” event (as defined under Labor Code § 3208.3). Thereby, Applicant is entitled to benefits for his psychiatric injuries, including the possibility of impairment benefits.
Defendants petition for reconsideration of this finding was denied in the panel decision of Chavez v Cut it Right Tree Service, SCIF.
The legislative and judicial history of section 3208.3(d) show that a “sudden and extraordinary” employment condition means something that is not regular and routine, and is uncommon, unusual and unexpected. (See Matea v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1435, 1449 (71 Cal.Comp.Cases 1522].) The Court of Appeal in Matea acknowledged that “[g]as main explosions and workplace violence are certainly uncommon and usually totally unexpected events; thus, they may be sudden and extraordinary employment conditions.”
“Applicant’s unrebutted testimony reflects that the injury occurred so quickly that he did not initially realize what had happened until he saw his leg. Defendant’s contentions that applicant had “notice” that the injury would occur because of his warnings to co-workers to be careful with his rope are unpersuasive. The injury was caused by a sudden employment condition.”